Saturday, June 30, 2007

The affair about the Presidential poll

The Congress may eventually have its candidate win the presidential poll, but they would have never thought that there will be this much amount of trouble over the election, that too, for a post mandated by the constitution to be mostly ceremonial. The only times when the President takes an independent decision 'without the advice of the council of ministers' is when he / she has to select a new Prime Minister. However, there are constraints even in this; the decision has to be based on the number of each party and its backers; and the Supreme Court is well on its way to curtail discretionary powers exercised in a unfair way.
For this post, the Congress played months of politics; first trying to get the Uttar Pradesh mandate delayed such that the election do not give powers to a party inmical to the Congress, then months of consulting its various supporters. The Left as usual gave the Congress a hard time, selecting the main trouble shooter for the Congress as worthy of support (which the Congress refused), refusing other candidates such as Karan Singh and Shivraj Patil (maybe we could have got a more effective Home Minister then), and Shinde was declared 'no' by Mayawati.
Finally, in a move of rank opportunism, the candidature of the Rajasthan Governor, Pratibha Patil was proposed (she was nowhere originally there in the race). The left could not object, and then the Congress started playing the advantages of having the first women candidate for the post of President. In their moment of triumph, the Congress would never have imagined the skeletons starting to fall out of her closet.
First, the widow of a Congress leader accused her of sheltering her brother, an accused in the case; then she was accused of defaulting on loans on a sugar mill; and then she opened her mouth and promptly offended more people by her comments on Purdah and Muslims (she made 2 statements directly contradicting each other, by which time the Congress told her not to open her mouth); too late, she next stated that she was told about a great chance this year by her Guru, who had dies ages ago and spoke to her out of another person (by which time the Left parties would be holding their head and wondering what to do); and now, a bank promoted by her had collapsed (accused of giving special loans to her relatives), the defense being that she was not involved with the bank since 1994 (proved to be a lie since she was given authority in 2002-2003 to select key people for the bank). Now the people who placed their hard earned money with the bank are wailing for their money:

Her UPA handlers may try to distance their Presidential nominee Pratibha Patil from the fraud in the bank she founded and its liquidation saying she didn’t sanction any loans when she was chairperson — but they should try telling that to angry and despairing depositors here.
An estimated 250 depositors, who had deposits of over Rs 1 lakh, now have little choice. They have got just the deposit insurance of Rs 1 lakh with no word on if and when they will get the balance. Most of them are uneducated — some don’t even know how much they are supposed to get — and their deposits were the savings they and their relatives had put away over several years.
As The Indian Express reported, an RBI inspection report alleged a slew of financial irregularities: loan waivers to her relatives and how six of the top ten defaulters were linked to Patil’s family. The RBI revoked the bank’s license in February 2003.

Reminds me of a small story. A financial analyst, when watching his recommended shares fall, wanted to seem strong, so he kept his recommendation live. In the process, he showed that he was stupid as well.
Seems like the Congress is like this. They want to show that they are strong, so they will stick with her as the candidate, and in the meantime, the new media, sensing blood, will open more stories about her till the time that she seems like a person who has sucked the life's savings of hundreds of people. But, the Congress will continue to support her.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:53 PM    

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The curious things about the Dera Sacha Sauda and Sikhism affair

I read this news in the morning, and it seemed incredible. The Punjab Government of the Akali Party and BJP has given permission for the prosecution of the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

On Wednesday, the Punjab government, acting on a court directive, gave the formal go-ahead for the arrest and prosecution of the Dera Chief, who had invited the ire of the Sikh community for allegedly attiring like Guru Gobind Singh. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal gave his Government's firm commitment to maintain law and order in the wake of Wednesday night's developments.

This was extremely strange. For those who have forgotten as to what criminal activity was committed by the leader of the sect, here is the answer. He had committed the sin of dressing like the 10th and last guru of the Guru Gobind Singh and distributing 'amrit' (nectar) like the Guru used to do.
For this activity of the head of the sect, there was violence and large-scale tension in the air. The coalition partner, BJP, had actually called on the government to ensure law and order, and peace at all costs. In between, there was escalation when Sikh hardliners pushed hard on the Akal takht to take some action. There was involvement from other religious and social leaders like Swami Agnivesh to try and cool tensions, but there does not seem to be anything that can be done to reverse what has been done.
The Government seems to have buckled down to the hardliners; and there is actually a sub-story. There have been numerous reports of how the younger generation of sikhs have refused to follow all the traditions, including not cutting hair. There is a feeling that the separate culture of Sikhism is getting lost, with numerous sects also coming up and being patronised in rural areas, especially by the section who are not well-off or looked upto.
In such cases, the current issue gives a good way to exploit the situation for hardliners with 2 benefits; get a name of being the true defender of the faith, as well as cut to size a very popular sect. However, this is going against the ethos of this majestic religion as well as the country.
To imagine that dressing up like the last Guru could cause any harm to the religion, or be dis-respectful to the last Guru. We are not like Saudi Arabia, or Iran or Pakistan, where showing disrespect to the religion or prophet is punishable by death. In fact, in this case, just by dressing up like the guru does not make it a crime of showing dis-respect. That is normally the case when you vilify the religion through deeds or words. If you want to see how to cause disrespect to a religion, there is no need to look too far away. One look at Hinduism, where countless people have shown immense disrespect to the religion, and yet it thrives. There is a current dispute about the painter M.F.Hussain painting nude images of Hindu goddesses, and there are numerous people ready to spring to his defense.
In this entire dispute about the Sikhism versus the Dera Sacha Sauda, I have not seen similar defense of the sect head. He is entitled to wear what he wants, to give amrit to whoever he wants. Take action if he does something that shows up Sikhism to ridicule or says something against the Gurus, but the current dispute is for no reason.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:27 PM    

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Want to make money, be a politician

It just cannot get more brazen than this. Mayawati, a chief minister is from humble upbringin, and not known to have a rich uncle who died and left her a fortune in her will. So consider her 'declared' wealth - she has a total holding of Rs. 52.5 crore. This is an incredible amount of money, and I am sure that Mayawati is not a big player in the stock market or a property builder, so how would she make that amount of money ?
In a word, corruption of the greatest order. Read some of these details:

UP chief minister Mayawati's wealth has grown by over 400% in the last three years. While filing her papers for the Lok Sabha election in 2004, she had declared her assets at a little over over Rs 11 crore. And now, as reported by TOI on Tuesday, she has declared in a sworn affidavit that her wealth amounts to Rs 52.5 crore.
On April 4, 2004, when Mayawati filed for contesting from the Akbarpur Lok Sabha seat, she declared that she owned four houses — all of them at Inderpuri (C-57, 58, 74 and 75) in Delhi — which were cumulatively worth 1.25 crore. This time, she has declared some prime pieces of property in Delhi — one of them on Sardar Patel Marg, an exclusive locality abutting the Capital’s diplomatic enclave. According to her, this alone is worth Rs 18 crore, although real estate agents place its market value at much higher. The rest are commercial properties in the city — two in Connaught Place, worth Rs 3.3 crore, and another in Okhla, worth Rs 15.5 crore.

As the excerpt shows, she has managed to acquire some additional property worth Rs. 40 crores in 3 years, and she has obviously not shown any sales of some big asset to finance the purchases of these properties. These properties are obviously new acquisitions, and seemingly difficult to do on a MP's salary.
These are examples of gross corruption, and she has the guts to declare these properties, and what has given her the guts to make such declarations. The positively inept Congress Government. I no longer believe Manmohan Singh to be a honest person, he is as bad a politician as any. A person is honest not only by himself, but by his actions. And the Prime Minister is behaving like as venal a politician as any other. He has accepted criminals in his cabinet, has behaved like a total poodle in the manner of letting Quatrochi go scot-free, connived in the dismal actions of his Governors such as Buta Singh, let the election of the President get into a loyalty game, and allowed his current useless Governor of Uttar Pradesh to refuse to give permission to prosecure Mayawati in the Taj case.
And now this, the Chief Minister of the country's most populus state is openly declaring her corruption, and he will refuse to get involved in any way. He will be remembered for inaction in the face of corruption of the polity.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:05 PM    

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Raja Bhaiya and politics

This is how it is in our country. Depending on who is in power, the question is answered about whether a person is a criminal or not. This is not good for our country, and for a sense of right and wrong. If a person is criminal, then that is something to be decided by the legal system, and not by the politicians. And as I write this, I would laught at this last statement if it was not so terrible.
A person who is the local terror in his region, who has a pond having human skeletons in it, who would think nothing about killing anybody who got in his way, was a minister in the Mulayam Singh cabinet, and there was not the furore that should have happened. Is the situation in our country so bad that if a person is from a certain caste, his caste members will forgive him anything, and any prosecution is seen as a caste related move? If that is the case, it is a tendency that will destroy this great country.
So, let's take the example of Raja Bhaiya, whose real name is Raghuraj Pratap Singh, and who is an independent MLA from Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh. The state of governance in UP had declined to such an extent, that no matter what he did, Raja Bhaiyya was immune from any consequence of his actions. There are numerous court cases listed against Raja Bhaiyya and if not for the political protection that Mulayam gave him, and if there was an independent police system, he would have been in jail long time back.
But, if it is politics that kept him out of problems, it is politics that put him in serious problems. He is seen as a symbol of the Thakur community, and is in the doghouse of Mayawati. Last time she was in power, she had slapped TADA against him, and the situation does not look very different this time.

Former minister and independent MLA from Kunda (Pratapgarh), Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya is in trouble again. The state police has declared him a dacoit, who has a well-organised gang and is wanted in a number of cases.
Interestingly, the change in the police perception is matched by the change in the state government, which is now headed by Raghuraj’s bete noire Mayawati. A ‘respectable’ minister and public face under previous government headed by the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav till May 10, Raja Bhaiyya is now an eyesore for the police. Having described him as a threat to the law and order situation, the police are now on the lookout for him.

Even though I applaud any action taken against such a despicable person, it is a problem that we face. For a country to be taken as a country of laws and policies, they need to be respected only if these are implemented without fear and discrimination. And in our country, the police force is seen as the force that can get the needs of politicians implemented, and hence the politicians are the ones who will always make sure that the police force is always under their control.
The maintenance of law and order is a state subject, and that is why, there are so many unequal implementations of law and order, or rather, 'the rule of law', in the country. The Supreme Court made a start by trying to make a set of rules that will make the police force independent and yet accountable, but that effort met with a lot of resistance from states, and is currently on a slow track.

posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:58 AM    

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Police disposing of parts of vechicles lying in police station

To a large extent, we are somewhat immune now to what our policemen do, but it is only when things affect us personally do we realize how bad things can be, and how our law is not meant for our benefit. And the law in this case means the whole judicial system, not just the police force.
As an example, just refer to this report in the Times of India:

Walk into a police station in any part of Uttar Pradesh and you will be greeted by apprehended vehicles parked all over. These are in various stages of rusting and decay. A closer look would reveal that various parts of these two-wheelers and four-wheelers are missing. And there are tell-tale signs that these were removed after the vehicles were brought to the police station. The cops sell off these parts to make a fast buck.
Once a vehicle is apprehended by the cops in a serious crime, it is impossible to get them released. The seasoned criminals don't even try to get their vehicles back as this only strengthens their involvement in the crime. Moreover, most of these vehicles were lifted for committing the crime. Add to this the long legal battle and it would be ages before a vehicle can be released from the clutches of the cops.

And this is not a problem just with the police force, it is a problem with how our law is written and implemented. If the vehice is stolen and then found later, you are in serious trouble. There go your chances of getting the insurance money back so easily. For, by the time it is found, it would have been in a far worse condition than when it was stolen. Further, you will need to wait for the court case to get over, and unless you are able to convince (with some greenery) the cops, the vehicle will rust in the police station. This is an absolute perversion of the law, and very very unfriendly.
The legal system should be such that cases are heard quickly, and then disposed off fast. However, India's legal system is stuck in a time warp, with most cases taking many years to dispose off. And policemen, as in the case above, taking full use of the system. So, your vehicle, lying in the police compound will bear the brunt of the elements without any care, till things start to rust and items start to get stolen.
The police stations are supposed to auction unclaimed vehicles on a regular basis, but since auction will not get money in the hands of the police personnel, it is not something that is implemented. Far better to leave the vehicle in the police station, ready to dissemble and sell off piece by piece. In fact, most police officers were not able to remember the last time an auction was held.
How can this ever be resolved? This is part of the practise where the police force is not accountable to anyone, and a law unto themselves. A measure to make the police force accountable is stuck because politicians do not want the police to be accountable to anyone other than politicians. How does one resolve such issues of national interest when it is clear that the government is not able to do so?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:44 PM    

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Presidential election gets murkier

This presidential election has just got murkier. In India, presidential elections (like the elections to the speaker's post), are seen as political contests between the ruling combination and the opposition. And so it was in this particular election, where there was a massive tug-of-war, not between the Congress and the BJP, but between the ruling party (Congress) and its supporters, the left combine. It is known thoroughly that the left views itself as the conscience of the ruling combine, and it never hesitates in wielding this power.
So, the run-up to the Presidential election has been much more tortured this time, starting with reports about how the Uttar Pradesh elections were seen as important due to the number of votes wielded by UP in the presidential election. In addition, the post of President is seen as having immense prestige for most politicians in the Congress. They know very well that with the Gandhi dynasty controlling the levers of power, there is no way that they can become powerful. Any politician who threatens to become powerful in any way is typically cut to size (in that way, Sonia Gandhi has all the instincts of Indira Gandhi).
So, the Congress has floated the names of a number of politicians, but with the left having a veto (how that must distress ordinary Congressites!), a number of names have floated and shot down due to rejection. Shivraj Patil (a disaster as Home Minister, but loyal) was tried out, and he would have fancied his chances, but the left did not like the way he conducted himself as Speaker (apparently was close to the BJP, or more likely, did not rule against the BJP often enough) and so was rejected. Next, Karan Singh (a true blood, but the left did not like him either, and you know what would happen). In between, Mayawati apparently rejected a few other names, for one not willing to have another Dalit be the President.
One wonders as to why this much drama for the name of the President. The President in India has much glamour associated in terms of perks, state visits and the like, but no real power. Discretionary power of the President is being carefully cut down, with the Supreme Court giving adverse comments when it sees some discretionary power being utilized in the wrong way.
So, eventually the Congress announced that it will recommend the name of Pratibha Patil, as a loyal party member (anyone who believes that it will go to somebody not seen as loyal has spent too much time in the North Indian sun). This was seen as a killer, given that she is a women, and also of the same caste and community (by marriage) as the vice-President. On cue, she gives statements about how she will act independently, hah !
And after much celebration, she does the very thing geared to provoke left opposition. In a public speech, she claims that Purdah was meant as a protection against Muslim invaders. My, in one stroke, she ha turned the left against her. How could she make comments about the Muslim invaders threatening local Hindus. If this issue catches fire, it is possible that she may have to withdraw her nomination, with the left wielding a veto. And what will the Congress do then ? Refer this article:

Even before the photo-ops are over, the ruling coalition's presidential candidate Pratibha Patil has run into a messy controversy over the origin of the purdah in India by claiming that it was introduced to protect women from Mughal invaders and, in the process, annoying many among her backers and giving her opponents gratuitous ammo for attack.
Patil's interpretation of history, say historians, is not accurate. But more than that, her statement at a function to commemorate the 467th birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap, was politically incorrect. And this has triggered a massive controversy with Muslim outfits, the Left intelligentsia and women's groups protesting against it.

The next few days are bound to be interesting. The BJP will be watching to see whether this will make a difference to the chances of its Presidential candidate.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:14 PM    

CBI lets off Quattrochi: Sloppy behaviour

This has to be deliberate, the consequences of a well-thought plan in the Congress leadership as to how devise a legal scheme to get 'Q', the man close to the Gandhi's, off the hook in the cases against him. The CBI has to file cases against him due to media pressure, but every measure is taken to weaken the case against him, and since the CBI reports into the Department of Personnel, this is all easily doable. Otherwise, how can this happen?

The order, which gave reasons for the Argentine lower court’s June 8 verdict, clearly indicated that India had to lose its case against Quattrocchi because it did not get "fresh arrest warrant" against him immediately after Delhi High Court’s February 2004 and May 2005 judgments.
The Argentine lower court’s remarks now raises a big question mark over the CBI’s seriousness to pursue the well-connected Italian fugitive. It now appears that had the agency been serious in its quest for Quattrocchi’s arrest, it would have got fresh arrest warrant against him as soon as getting the May, 2005 Delhi High Court order — if not the February, 2004 order. But the CBI did not do so and it proved to be a boon for the Bofors case prime accused in the Argentine court.

The CBI is the premier investigating agency of the Government, with massive resources at its disposal. In addition, the Government has the best of legal advice on its own side. It is impossible to believe that the Government did not know about the course of action. There has been deliberate delay on the part of the Government so as to get 'Q' off the hook.
What actually happened? After the judgment of the Delhi High Court, the CBI did not file an appeal, nor did they get a fresh arrest warrant issued. And when did they get a fresh warrant issued? 17 days after the detention in Argentina. And this is in addition to losing the case in Malaysia, and the shocking incident of the Government second highest legal officer going to London to get the funds of 'Q' unfrozen, even after Supreme Court disapproval. But then I guess when there is a higher court in the Congress, what matters?
I would think, that just like the actions of the Supreme Court in making the post of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner independent, and of trying to implement a policy of making the police independent of the political system, it is required that the CBI be also independent of the political poison that has killed its credibility. It required a judge sitting in Argentina, so far away, to slap India's premiere investigating agency, the Central Bungler of Ineptitude (CBI) on the face, by awarding legal fees against it, and by essentially telling it that it is sloppy. Mark the words, the Congress Government is like a insect that is boring into the country's criminal law system and turning it hollow.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:33 AM    

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tamil film Shivaji shows "Who's the boss"

For a long time, Bollywood is the answer when one talks about the Indian film industry. In terms of news, awards, overseas markets, soft exports, number of movies, all of these, Bollywood (Hindi movie land) is the undoubted king. And then comes a sudden time when all this is in doubt. The sudden and fast rise of the latest Rajnikant Tamil movie, 'Sivaji: The Boss' has shown that there are other language movie industries in India that carry their own weight. All the things that I talked about in the beginning of this post are still true, but this movie carries its own facts with it, some of which challenge the dominance of the Hindi film industry.
Consider the following facts about the movie:
- It is the most expensive Indian movie, costing around 95 crores to make. Now this is only $24 million, so is very small by US standards, but is fairly expensive by Indian standards
- Ticket sales are astronomical in India, with movies halls being booked for days on end
- Fan fervour is such that companies have booked halls for their employees on specific days
- The movie is making waves
outside Tamil Nadu, with releases in Mumbai, Karnataka, Delhi, Malaysia and other places such that fans are flocking
There are a number of Indian top notch heroes who would love to be in Rajnikanth's shoes. He is supposed to be charging much more than any Hindi film hero, more than Shahrukh or Amitabh Bachchan. In most cases (with the exception of 1-2 movies in the recent past), his name associated with a movie is enough to bring in crowds who book halls for days on end. He is almost a demi-god to his fans:

They broke pumpkins to ward off evil eyes, lit camphor to perform 'aarti' and bathed gigantic cut-outs of Rajnikant with hundreds of litres of milk. As crackers burst incessantly, the Tamil superstar's fans exhibited their joy by distributing sweets.
For the most expensive film ever made (Rs 95 crore) in the history of Indian cinema, Sivaji's first two days' bookings in just Chennai crossed Rs 3 crore. "It's a smash hit. With such response, it'll have a long run. Our investment will bring back good returns," said C T Valliapan, owner of Kamala Theatre. In Chennai, the film had a 16-screen opening. "We're housefull for the next 14 days," he said.

What is the difference between a Hindi film fan and a Tamil film fan ? This is a very subjective issue, and I invite comments from readers, but my own impression based on experiences in Chennai and outside Chennai are the following:
- Hindi film fans are also very dedicated, but somehow fail to have the same fervor as a Tamil movie fan.
- It's almost like a Tamil film fan can have their opinions (at least politically) run by their stars. As the reign of MGR, Jayalalitha and the power of opinions expressed by Rajnikanth shows, people are far more inclined to follow the commands of their film stars
- There are few Hindi film fans who will go to incredible efforts to reach their stars or watch their movies, the same as a Tamil movie fan would do (for example, when there were reports in the paper about how fans from Chennai flew to Delhi because they were not getting tickets in Chennai, it seemed very believable to me)
- The story goes that Rajnikanth's birthday is an incredible event in Chennai, and I have experienced this myself. On one particular birthday, I remember that people in the office talked about that all day, and in the evening were worried that celebrations in the street would hamper their trip home. I don't think that any film star of the Hindi film industry would excite such kinds of emotions.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:14 AM    

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Price to pay for development: Our trees

The Delhi-Hardwar highway is a fairly narrow highway in most sections, and with religious traffic, it can get very crowded nowadays. As part of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) plans, there is a contract out to improve the highway; when I say improve, it essentially means widening the highway. This is a very good thing as it will decrease the time taken for travel, will reduce traffic congestion and avoid the jams that seem to pop up on the highway frequently. In addition, with the industrialization of the belt around Haridwar, it will help industry tremendously by reducing the time taken for transit of inputs and finished items.
So I was traveling along the highway, it was fairly congested, and was just thinking of the time that would be reduced in transit the next time. Seemed like a fairly win-win situation, and it may even be good for the environment, since the travel would be more effective, less fuel wastage, less need to replace tyres, and so on. And then I saw the casualty of the entire exercise, at least for the short term. The environment.
This was the first time that I had seen the clearance of the sides of a road passing through the countryside. For those who are unable to picturise it, think of a road with trees and foilage on either side, and then there are the farm lands. The land just next to the road belongs to the government in a number of places, and there are these big trees lining the road on both sides, providing shade on the road itself. In this furnace like situation that exists right now outside, the shaded portions are actually cooler. In many cases, the trees are local fruit bearing, and provide fruits during their seasons.
Anyhow, I digress. So what I saw was that the undergrowth below the trees was on fire all along the route. Maybe somebody can better explain, but my explanation was that first they clear all the undergrowth by burning it, and maybe killing the tree, and then remove the tree. This had already started happening. I was appalled to see this technique. We crib about global warming, we crib that it is the primary responsibility of the west, and then we contribute to it by this method of mass burning.
I was left wondering as to what would happen about the trees. It seemed fairly obvious that the new road would be a barren road, with not much vegetation on either side. Even if trees are planted on either side, and I am not sure, it will take ages to get back to the same condition as they were. I can only hope that when they plant trees, they plant the leafy local varieties that thrive in these regions.
Overall, I was pained to see the price of development, knowing it was inevitable, but even then..

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:34 AM    

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The recent Gujjar agitation for ST status: Woe to politicians

This entire issue of the Gujjar protest to get Scheduled Tribe status now looks to blow away for a few months, till the time that the committee setup to look into the issue. But one thing is clear, that no one from the political arena anticipated that things will take such a turn. As the position currently stands, it is a lose-lose situation for politicians, and they realize that the reservation flame can burn all of them. Otherwise, if a fire was burning in a BJP ruled state, where elections are due in a short while, and there is some amount of internal dissension, would the Congress be mostly silent ?
I was listening to the news and reading the papers everyday, and the most important news was the one missing. The Congress President, spokesperson, and sundry other people from the Congress and the other non-BJP parties, none of them made the usual noises about the BJP not fulfilling an electoral promise, about the government not keeping violence in control, about dismissing the Government for an apparent collapse. Instead, when Sachin Pilot raised his voice once, that was the last time he raised his voice; and you had the Prime Minister down trying to keep things in control. At the same time, violence was tolerated so that a community does not get aggrieved against the political party.
And that brings us to our prime topic. The issue of reservation and politics in India has spun out of control. Reservations were seen as a way to get people who are down-trodden and crushed by other parts of society a leg-up. I can't disagree with that. However, over time, it has got so political that the original purpose is getting lost. Would somebody be willing to believe that a rural community, usually very proud of itself, would say that it wants to be classified as a Scheduled Tribe, the lowest in the ladder. Anybody looking at the situation from an honest angle would not classify the Gurjjar community as a ST community.
But reservations are now the best way to get government jobs; in the administration, in the police, and other groups that make a difference to society, especially so in a rural area. It is not anymore about social uplifting, the single point agenda being to get a better share of government jobs. And there is ample precedent in this case. The prime users of the ST label in Rajasthan is the Meena community, and they corner most of the offices reserved for ST's. The Gujjar community got added to the OBC list after an agitation some time back, but are now losing out to the Jats who they see as better in terms of economic and developmental models, and hence more likely to corner a share of the reservations. So, add the Gujjars to the ST list as they are demanding? Not so fast, if the Gujjars get added, the Meena community will start to feel that their domination of the ST seats is under threar, and that is not something that is going to be tolerated. Hence, the Meena community gathered as a large group, numbering more than 50,000 (as per the papers), gathered a huge quantity of weapons, and set out to have a peaceful non-violent discussion with the Gujjar villages. Only the army and police prevented these 2 extremely peace loving groups from meeting and creating a river of blood.
What is a poor, well intentioned politician likely to do ? Set up a committee and push the decision out. Taking a decision (either yes or no) would have large repercussions in terms of voter base, and with both the Meena and Gujjar community on the warpath, it would only have been a lose-lose decision.
This is something that is to be expected. Reservations, without any good targeting of the people needing this kind of help, will be seen as an entitlement, and something to be defended. What will happen now ? Politicians, especially of the Congress variety are starting to see that the reservation bandwagon that they are championing is not giving them any benefits. Political benefits are cornered by the specific caste focused parties, urban voters start punishing them, and the courts ask hard questions for which they have no answers. In addition, their supporting parties raise hell with them about not getting the reservations implemented.
One would like to say at this point that politicians deserve this, but this is bigger. It affects our country. These sort of agitations deepen caste divisions, create economic misery, ruin portions of the economy such as tourism, and affect the aam admi (daily wage earners). We need to bring people not getting the benefits of growth into a life of improvement, but not through short term measures. Targeted benefits to people in terms of more education, more facilities, and even reservation (but focused, else the creamy layer will skim it all away). Does one really believe that politicians will listen ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 4:48 AM    

Sunday, June 03, 2007

An absolutely useless government, not willing to stop violence

Today is the day of the Gujjar called jam in Delhi, and watching it makes me mad with rage against thus useless incompetent government that we have. How can we have a government that is so spineless; this is a public forum so I am controlling my language, but I no longer believe that the Congress party is fit or has the ability to provide any form of governance.
There are widespread reports and visual information on the TV, with so many news channels, about various routes in Delhi getting blocked. These have been blocked for now atleast 4-5 hours with a massive number of commuters getting stuck everywhere. They are starting to burn buses, and break private vehicles for most of the routes to and fro from Delhi. So, for example, routes to Ghaziabad, Noida, Faridabad, Gurgaon, etc are blocked, and people are apprehensive with fear.
And what do we see ? We see these hooligans burning buses, standing in the middle of the road, and the useless inept police standing at the side. Police in many cases are letting buses burn, and are just warning people to avoid these troublesome scenes. Water cannons are used to put out the fires, and on the demonstrators, but that is the extent of police action, no more. No lathicharge, no action to control these thugs, no action to protect public and private property. Mostly, the police are adopting a watch and watch action, letting them maybe burn out. Channels are reporting that police have been told to take minimum action.
Is this the government and authorities to whom we trust to ensure safety? Yes, but one can see this absolutely useless government maybe trying not to take too much action against these thugs because they are a big community, and would not want to face political heat. This is not hard to believe, and a large number of people would easily accept that this .... government can take any action as long as it does not affect them politically.
This is the national capital, the center of a country that wants to be accepted as a rapidly advancing country, and it is an absolute shame that we buckle down to such crass mass action, instead of ensuring the maintenance of law and order, the primary responsibility of the government. What sort of message does this pass? If you are a big community, you can do what you want since the govt will be fearful of getting hurt politically. No matter that in this case, the aam admi definitely gets hurt, farmers produce rots because transport is blocked, people have to spend day and nights in this heat at bus and railway stations because transport is blocked. God help this country if we have such useless politicans. Shame on you Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, is this the form of politics that you trying to advocate?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:40 PM    

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Another success on the RTI platform

The RTI Act has several warts, it faces a lot of pressure from the bureaucracy which is being forced to take action, it is dependent to a large extent on the diktats of the information commissioners; but it is causing a number of long pending cases to be heard and resolved. And the prime reason, the main advantage of the RTI Act being that it gives people the right to take a peek inside Government file movement and decision making. The RTI Act remains one of the key laws passed in the recent past by parliament, and as it sinks more deeper into society, people will use it far more.
In this particular case, a widow whose husband was employed with the Government was entitled to receive Rs. 53,000 under a group insurance scheme after his death. For 12 years (12 years is a very large period of time in such circumstances), she was battling with the Gujarat state revenue department to get this money. There were some procedural issues with the premium that her husband had to pay, but she was not aware of these details. Finally, she filed a case under the RTI Act, and the Gujarat Information Commission asked the revenue department to file a reply. Based on this reply, the widow had to pay some amount against unpaid premium, and then she was allotted the insurance proceeds.
Besides the obvious issue of an uncaring department, the bureaucracy is normally unresponsive because the details of file movement are not disclosed to the applicant. However, the RTI Act entitles the applicant to know about current status of the file / application, and when the concerned babu is brought under the laser spotlight of the RTI application, things move.
All of us know this, that the bureaucracy is a picture of sloth, with things normally moving at a slow pace. Until there are some systemic reforms, the RTI Act presents a very good way (much better than other ways) of getting information (as a right) and then being able to get action taken based on this information.
There are a number of movements geared towards getting people aware of their rights under the RTI Act. Some of these are:
3. India Together
4. RTI (Govt)
The true powers of this Act are only possible when people use this right to information whenever they feel stone-walled or when they need information for a public cause (like amount of money allocated and spent in their sorroundings).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:37 AM